Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the causative agent of the novel viral disease COVID-19. With no approved therapies, this pandemic illustrates the urgent need for broad-spectrum antiviral countermeasures against SARS-CoV-2 and future emerging CoVs. We report that remdesivir (RDV) potently inhibits SARS-CoV-2 replication in human lung cells and primary human airway epithelial cultures (EC = 0.01 μM). Weaker activity is observed in Vero E6 cells (EC = 1.65 μM) because of their low capacity to metabolize RDV. To rapidly evaluate in vivo efficacy, we engineered a chimeric SARS-CoV encoding the viral target of RDV, the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase of SARS-CoV-2. In mice infected with the chimeric virus, therapeutic RDV administration diminishes lung viral load and improves pulmonary function compared with vehicle-treated animals. These data demonstrate that RDV is potently active against SARS-CoV-2 in vitro and in vivo, supporting its further clinical testing for treatment of COVID-19.